Colombian Navy’s International Maritime Center against Drug Trafficking: A Strategic Anti-Drug Solution
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo September 12, 2016Since its founding on July 3rd, 2015, the Colombian Navy's International Maritime Center Against Drug Trafficking (CIMCON for its Spanish acronym)), a leading research center on drug trafficking, has become an answer against criminal groups operating in the territorial waters of the Americas. After a year of work that created a "virtuous cycle" by combining the use of information with experience, academic research, information transfer, and case studies, CIMCON has finalized new operational recommendations and approaches to its regional security strategy for combating drugs, the Colombian Navy reported. "According to Colombian sources, an estimated 6 million nautical miles [11 million square kilometers] comprise the transit zone is used for illegal drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Central America. Over 50 percent of the drugs transported by sea transits or crosses through Colombian maritime jurisdiction," Commander George Rincón, CIMCON director, told Diálogo. "No Navy has the capacity to exercise control in such a wide area. Regional navy integration is fundamental so that information flow can be more effective in operations at sea." Fulfilling responsibilities CIMCON is located at the Admiral Padilla Barrio Bosque Naval Academy of Cadets facilities, in the city of Cartagena, Colombia. It was built with help from the United States government and has fulfilled its regional commitments: promoting closer ties among the countries affected by drug trafficking as well as studying drug trafficking and the evolution of the crime that affects all countries equally, according to the Colombian Navy. CIMCON has hosted experts from all over the Americas to develop the required studies and to fulfill the center's proposed objectives. Since March 1, 2016, Captain Alfredo Ramón Enriquez Delgado was commissioned as researcher and Mexican Navy representative to CIMCON. For the past seven years, he has developed naval intelligence work. "Accumulated experience is very important. Capt. Enriquez has focused his efforts on studying submersibles and semi-submersibles because the use of this type of vessel is also a threat in Mexico. He ([Capt. Enriquez]) is participating in the analysis we're doing on what is going on in the Pacific, the Caribbean and Central America with respect to the use of different dynamics and means of transportation used by drug-trafficking groups," said Cmdr. Rincón. The results Over the past 23 years, Colombian authorities have confiscated 91 semi-submersibles that were going to be used for trafficking drugs from Colombia to the United States or Mexico. This vessel is an illegal marine vehicle handcrafted for trafficking drugs. Its construction requires materials, technology and a specialized workforce, which costs between $ 1 million and $ 1.5 million, according to Colombian daily El Tiempo. Since the beginning of the 90s, manufacturing techniques for the so-called "narco-submarines" have been improving, increasing their carrying capacity. They are currently able to smuggle up to 15 metric tons of drugs. Some vessels are silent and unmanned, while others are equipped with valves that allow them to fill up with water and submerge themselves in order to evade authorities. Honduras was the first Latin American country to send a researcher to the International Maritime Center Against Drug Trafficking. For six months, Honduran Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Marlon Flores Ávila developed work related to Fusion Centers, a strategy applied to the region by the Colombian Navy since 2014. This strategy is known as a naval network, which is the sum of efforts, capacities and information. The strategy seeks to create "sanctuaries" where danger zones for drug trafficking organizations are created through national-level information exchange between the various Forces and Latin American agencies, Navies and Coast Guards; and through the implementation of Fusion Centers, which help coordinate information and anti-drug trafficking operations in real time, explained Commander Néstor O. Castellanos Zambrano, head of the Analysis and Operational Innovation Division of the Colombian Navy's Direction Against Drugs, according to the website of the Maritime League of Colombia. "Using naval intelligence, Lt. Flores was able to compile important information that allowed him to develop the research work that he brought to his country. Honduras is seeing how to implement a Fusion Center; these centers have worked very well in Colombia," explained Cmdr. Rincón. “What they are seeking to do is plant a seed, to try to make the International Maritime Center available to countries to hit hard at organizations on the margins of the law. We also hope to have United States researchers and analysts in the near future. France responded to the strategy and sent a couple of researchers to CIMCON.” Colombian naval intelligence and Honduran naval intelligence have become closer through CIMCON, allowing for the confiscation of over 3 metric tons of cocaine off the coast of Honduras in 2015. The drug seizures were carried out in various areas in Honduras, mainly in the sector of La Mosquita, in the department of Gracias a Dios. The future of CIMCON CIMCON is working on two proposals: the Fusion Centers and legal issues — developing legal seminars in the region, which allow for the standardization of procedures. The two proposals will be presented at the XV meeting of the group of experts of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission on maritime drug trafficking. The goal of the meeting, which will be held from September 13th to 15th in Cartagena, Colombia, is to strengthen the fight against drugs at the hemispheric level. "The Colombian Navy and the navies of the region are accustomed to developing naval intelligence. The navies have their place, and they are very effective, but the problem of drug trafficking is not being impacted — the problem persists. From an academic perspective, CIMCON, in its research and analysis role, is more about strategy than tactics, and we want to develop operational recommendations that contribute in some way, but that have a lot more impact on the problem of drug trafficking," concluded Cmdr. Rincón.